by Mellissa Thomas
American Express OPEN’s 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report revealed that a staggering 55 percent of new women-owned businesses launched each day over the past year were led by minority women. Design House of Colour, a clothing design facility and boutique, is the latest addition to that number. The company held its grand opening at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, October 1, 2015 with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill, and Orange County Soil & Water Conservation Supervisor Daisy Morales in attendance. Other special guests included Sanford-Brown College Orlando’s Sharon Smith, National Program Chair for the Fashion Design & Merchandising and Retail Merchandise Program, and Chelsea Preston, Fashion and Merchandising Department Lead Faculty; Ms. Latina International CEO Angela Posillico, Ms. Latina International 2015 Jannese Garcia Vazquez, Ms. International World 2014 Jenny Rosario, and Ms. Teen International United States Kasity Rae Anne.
Location, Location, Location…Parramore
Design House of Colour (DHOC) is located in the heart of downtown Orlando—in Suite M at 595 West Church Street, across the street from Amway Center and only a short distance from the Citrus Bowl, in the Parramore District.
Parramore carries the reputation as downtown Orlando’s “depressed” area, which people often avoid, primarily because of the dilapidated building facades and industrial areas, and the high number of transient citizens who have experienced hardship walking its streets each day.
So, why open a brand new business in Parramore? According to DHOC’s website, its mission is “to provide unique opportunities to the underprivileged and under-served in the fashion design and embellishment industry.”
Quite simply, DHOC identified its market and moved into its center.
Miami-born owner and founder Dr. Renee Forbes-Williams identifies with the struggle. Her mother was a fashion designer, so she was “born and raised in fashion,” but things changed when she decided to get into the industry herself.
“I actually enrolled in a fashion design program at Tennessee State University,” Forbes-Williams recalled. “But my mother said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it! I mean, honestly, how many black designers can you name?’ And that was her point, and I acknowledged that.”
She eventually found her way back into fashion, and wanted to offer an otherwise scarce opportunity to a new generation.
“What I think is so unique about the Design House of Colour is that it’s not only business, but it gives people an opportunity to follow their dreams and [offers] apprenticeship programs,” Commissioner Hill explained. “It’s a business that’s helping to develop other businesses.”
Another Beacon of Hope for Parramore
The City of Orlando’s Downtown Development Board (DDB) and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) offers the Minority/Women Entrepreneur Business Assistance Program, or MEBA, to existing minority or women-owned businesses in the Parramore area, and to new minority or women-owned businesses that wish to open locations in the Parramore area.
“We are committed in the City to focus on the revitalization of Parramore,” Mayor Dyer said during the grand opening. “It seems like we’re doing [ribbon cuttings] every other week in Parramore now.” He also informed the packed audience that through the MEBA program, DHOC was able to get funding “for capital equipment, site improvements, marketing expertise…state of the art machinery and cutting edge design software.”
Together with existing programs such as Parramore Kidz Zone, youth and aspiring designers in the Parramore area have an additional model to aspire to, and increased hope, given this new opportunity to empower themselves. DHOC offers a weeklong course in basic sewing and embellishments (sequins, metallics, etc.). Its boutique layout affords students the chance to sell the very clothing they create there on its shelves and racks.
The DHOC website invites outside designers to showcase their wares for sale in the boutique as well.
“This is such a unique concept,” said Thomas Chatmon, Jr., Executive Director of the Downtown Development Board. “[And] with the influx of students coming in here and then their customers coming in to take advantage of the product that is created here, I think it can be very good for Parramore, very good for West Church Street, and good for City View.”
The Design House of Colour in Action
The grand opening ran from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and everyone gathered at the doors for the ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m. The day’s offering included a deejay, gourmet hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Elite Catering & Events, LLC., lunch provided by DHOC, and fashion showcases by five different designers.
Nailuj Villaroel, who graced Orlando with her diaphanous gowns and pageant wear during the Caribbean American Fashion Extravaganza at Fashion Square Mall back in June, showcased first. Shabar Cromer and Trish Green, both of whom showcased during Orlando International Fashion Week 2014, followed respectively. In the afternoon, some of Sanford-Brown College Orlando’s top designers showcased their collections, including Paula Gisel and Isabel Carmona. Carmona also showcased during Mall at Millenia’s 2015 Fashion Week and the Southern Women’s Show in September. Designer Maggie Quant also presented her collection.
Ms. International World 2014 Jenny Rosario emceed the first half of the day, and Ms. Latina International CEO Angela Posillico emceed the latter half.
The elected officials and the audience got to see custom shirt printing firsthand. The first presentation was Mayor Dyer’s “I Love Downtown Orlando” shirt, followed by Commissioner Hill’s “I Am District 5 Orlando” and “Straight Outta District 5” shirts. Also, in partnership with Orlando International Fashion Week, which takes place the first week of November, Dr. Forbes-Williams presented Commissioner Hill and Orange County Soil & Water Conservation Supervisor Daisy Morales custom-made Orlando International Fashion Week shirts as well.
The launch party followed from 12:00 p.m. to 4 p.m., followed by a celebratory toast, and the Orlando International Fashion Week Mixer from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The crowd was excited and happy for Dr. Forbes-Williams on her momentous accomplishment and looks forward to DHOC’s success.
“We at the Downtown Development Board are committed to doing whatever we can to make Design House of Colour a success,” Chatmon said. “We’ll be promoting it through our marketing efforts and social media efforts and coordinating with them on any special events or promotions that they want to convey to the public…We’re very happy that they’re here.”
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